For the first eight years of our ministry, I didn’t have a friend to my name. In those same years, I birthed and stayed home with three children, and I remember willing myself not to get sick because I didn’t know who I would call for help if I did. Community was something I created for other people, not something I enjoyed myself. At least, that’s how I felt.
When we prepared to plant out of that church, my husband gathered prospective core team members in our living room and asked, “When you dream of what church could be, what is it that you think of?” For me, the answer was simple, and I timidly spoke out loud what I’d held inside for so long.
“I don’t want to feel as if I’m standing outside of community, helping it happen but not enjoying it myself. I want our church to be the kind where I get to enjoy the inside. I want to have friends.”
What I didn’t yet realize is that community isn’t something that comes to us; it’s something that we go toward. We make choices that either invites community or hinders the very thing we long for. The reasons I’d struggled in friendship were many—my lack of initiation, the very specific parameters I’d placed around what type of friend I wanted and how they would relate to me, time constraints that I used as an excuse, but, primary among them, is that I chose not to take the risk of vulnerability with other women.
God gave me a do-over with church planting because the difficult nature of the work made it nearly impossible to hide behind carefully maintained facades or self-sufficiency. My spiritual, physical and emotional neediness pointed like arrows toward asking wise and faithful women for help. And so, I did.
Vulnerability is the spark for us to enjoy and help cultivate true community. Only through vulnerability can we fulfill the “one another” parts in Scripture—pray for one another, confess to one another, forgive one another, bear one another’s burdens. Only then do we know the burdens of others, and only then do they know ours.
Vulnerability is risky and must be done wisely. I have learned to move slowly toward vulnerability with others, praying all the way for God to give me wisdom and discernment not only in who I am vulnerable with but in what I share. Who are wise women around me? Who holds confidences well? Who speaks truth with grace to others around them? Who values me as a child of God and not just as the pastor’s wife?
In discerning what I share, it’s important to note that there are some things we won’t be able to talk about with anyone in our church community. However, I can always share about myself. I can share how God is working in my life, how God is convicting me and how I need prayer. I can even share how I am struggling with church-related things without giving details that are inappropriate to share. Simply put, vulnerability has been key for me in developing community that is not just one-sided but mutual and life-giving.
I look back at those first eight years of ministry, and I see that I did in fact have fledgling friendships. All those prayers I’d prayed to God for a friend? He’d actually answered it with Kelly, Jamee, Ashley and Niki, but I’d never taken the risk of vulnerability with them. I’d been more concerned with impressing them than knowing them or letting them know me. As a result, the friendships had faltered before they’d even truly started. I had been my own worst enemy all along.
Dear one, don’t be your own worst enemy. Resist making excuses or thinking of yourself as “other” because of your role within the church. Yes, be wise, but don’t let fear and severe self-protection hinder the very thing that you long for. Take that risk of vulnerability.
Published August 25, 2016